Coorg or Kodagu is a stunningly beautiful and verdant place in the Southern state of Karnataka, India. Driving through Coorg’s rolling grasslands, misty mountains and thick forests studded with coffee and pepper plantations is a wonderful experience. Of course, you need to overlook the potholes dotting the road as you make your way through the gentle and winding roads of Coorg, which is often referred to as “Scotland of India.” Over the years we had read quite a bit about Coorg and enjoyed their coffee, honey and spices. And yet, we had never visited Coorg and it was time to rectify it.
A couple of years ago we went on an unplanned road trip to Coorg. Armed with our smart phones and Google map we jumped into a compact Suzuki Swift and left Bangalore in the wee hours of the morning. We hit National Highway 48 (NH48) that connects Bangalore to Mangalore, a port city located on the Arabian Sea coast of the state. NH48 runs almost like a straight line from Bangalore to Mangalore on the western coast of the state.
Within a couple of hours of leaving Bangalore we stopped at this Cafe Coffee Day for a break. The cafe has clean bathrooms, which is a big bonus when you are traveling in India. Right next to the cafe is a gas station where we topped up our gas tank.
After a short stop we hopped back into the car and drove on NH48, which is well-maintained highway. We found ourselves rubbing shoulders with tractors and trucks laden with hay and animals. Oh! I forgot to mention that this is not a toll-free highway. Keep your change handy to pay tolls in more than one place.
Midway through our trip on NH48 we switched and used surface roads to reach Virajpet in Coorg. Our plan was to spend a day at a family owned coffee plantation close to Thadiyandamole, the tallest mountain in this area. To reach our destination, we had to leave our car at the bottom of the hill and clamber into a 4-wheel drive. We slowly made our way through a steep and narrow, unpaved path surrounded on either side with lush greenery, streams and waterfall. We were transported to a whole different world that was filled with cooing of birds and the gentle rustle of trees and plants. After a couple of kilometers we arrived at a clearing with a cluster of buildings.We went into the main building, which had a cozy dining room that served home cooked food and fresh coffee. After a quick lunch we stepped out to explore the coffee estate.
We spent the night at a cottage surrounded by thick vegetation and the chirping of crickets and other bugs and insects. If you thought Bangalore is cold at night then you need to experience the cold nights in Coorg. Without a heater and with open ventilation in the bathroom the room got pretty cold. I wished I had carried my thick winter jacket and woollen socks – they would have been of great help in warding off the wickd cold.
In the morning we found the place shrouded in a misty blanket that reminded me of the San Francisco Bay area. After a leisurely breakfast the plantation owner offered to give us a tour of his property. Since he was a biology major we got an interesting tour about the flora and fauna of the region, and how this area was famous for its honey. Turns out he was one of the biggest honey producers from Coorg, who had to give it up when the bee colonies started to collapse over 10 years ago. He changed directions and became a coffee planter.
Late in the evening we left our beautiful and unspolit coffee plantation to stay in another coffee plantation located a few miles down the road. This was a pucca British style plantation run by Tata plantation.
This plantation was a bit more formal with an excellent and friendly staff, who went out of their way to make us feel at home. We spent a couple of days here soaking in the atmosphere and getting a sense of what it must be to live in a coffee plantation.
One morning we went on a lovely bird watching trip around the plantation and learnt about the various bird that visit this area. And late one afternoon we got a tour of the plantation in a Jeep. We drove through this large coffee estate studded with coffee shrubs, pepper and vanilla creepers. At one point the plantation grew a lot of vanilla but cut back its production due to of falling prices for the spice. The coffee grown in this plantation is sourced by Starbucks in India our guide pointed out.
We were warned not to stray out of the compound because there were elephants in the area. Often, these elephants end up making unexpected visits and it was safe to be out and about. In fact late one evening we heard an elephant right outside our veranda and were warned by the staff not to step out.
After a pleasant and wonderful stay at this plantation, we reluctantly packed our belongings and had one last cup of freshly filtered coffee and made our way back to Bangalore. On our way back we stopped at a bunch of small shops to pick up huge packet of black pepper, cumin, cardamom, coffee and bottles of honey. I still have a bottle of whole blacker peppercorns. And anytime I use those peppercorns a little whiff of our Coorg memories wafts from that bottle. I remember the little store in Coorg from where I bought them.
If you ever get a chance to visit Coorg, don’t miss the opportunity. Coorg is a place worth visiting. Karnataka is indeed One State, Many Worlds.
MAPS: Google maps is the best resource to navigate your way from Bangalore to Coorg.
TOURIST INFORMATION: Karnataka Tourism
COORG TO VIRAJPET: TEAM-BHP Forum
COFFEE PLANTATION STAYS IN COORG: TATA PLANTATION TRAILS